Lawrence General Hospital Medical Affairs Chief: Holy Family’s ‘Care is Clearly Declining’

As state officials continue to encourage people to seek care at Steward Health Care’s eight hospitals in Massachusetts despite the company’s bankruptcy, a doctor from a neighboring hospital said the messaging doesn’t tell the whole story of what is actually happening on the ground. Since Steward filed for bankruptcy in Texas last week, Gov. Maura T. Healey and others have sought to make clear that the legal proceeding does not necessarily mean that anything has changed for patients, urging people to keep their appointments at Steward facilities and encouraging residents to seek emergency care at Steward hospitals without reservation. Public Health Commissioner Robbie Goldstein told the Public Health Council on Wednesday that the state’s “consistent message to patients in the community has been and continues to be that all Steward hospitals in Massachusetts remain open, patients should keep up with their health care needs, maintain their appointments, screenings and tests.”

But the chief of medical affairs at Lawrence General Hospital, which is near to Steward’s Holy Family Hospital in Methuen and Haverhill, told the council that underneath the state’s rhetoric “is a reality, which is that in spite of these hospitals remaining open, their level of intensity of care is clearly declining.”

“And that’s a message that is not really advertised, but it is real. For the ones that are next door to them, we can see that vital support services—not just having emergency room physicians and nurses, but you need to have orthopedics, neurosurgery, you need to have all of these other things to be able to care for these patients. So, what we are finding is that they get in, they get evaluated, but then they get transferred out.

State Senate Unveils ‘MassEducate’ Free Community College Plan; Would Start 2025 if Approved

Senate Democrats Monday unveiled plans to make community college free in Massachusetts, starting as early as this fall. The plan, which will be part of the Senate’s fiscal 2025 budget to be fully unveiled today, would invest $75.5 million to cover tuition and fees for all residents, and offer a stipend to some students of up to $1,200 for books, supplies and other costs. “I’m thrilled that we have taken access to higher education to the next level, as this initiative will bolster our educated workforce and lay the foundation for generations to come,” Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues said in a statement. “Tuition free community college impacts individuals most in need and whom otherwise would not be afforded this opportunity. It will greatly help to keep our workforce graduates stand ready to meet the challenges of a global economy.”

The Senate budget will also continue fiscal 2024 investments such as $18 million in free nursing programs at community colleges and $24 million that the state is currently investing in free community college for residents over 25.

Amid Steward Health Concerns, Walsh Lectures Legislature on Making Decisions in ‘Haste’

Massachusetts Health and Human Services Secretary Kate Walsh issued a broad warning Tuesday about hasty legislative solutions to address the role of private equity in health care, as officials and hospital leaders continue to brace for potentially major care disruptions amid Steward Health Care’s financial challenges. Walsh did not invoke any specific proposal when asked about the role of state or federal legislation to respond to the Steward crisis, following recent Beacon Hill hearings focused on the negative impact of private equity on patient care and possible strategies to boost regulatory oversight of health care transactions. “I think that the health care system in our country is really, really complicated, and I worry about broad brushstrokes that say, ‘private equity bad, not-for-profit good,’” Walsh told reporters following an event at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “I think we have seen an extreme set of circumstances, the choices that Steward made as a health system to capitalize their system—it just didn’t work,” the secretary continued. “And so what we need to do when we get patients, and staff, and people and regions through this is sort of step back.

Steward Health Care to Sell Physician Group to Optum, Pending Regulatory Approval

Steward Health Care, owner of Holy Family Hospitals in Haverhill and Methuen, said it plans to sell its physician group, Stewardship Health, to a UnitedHealth Group’s subsidiary, Minnesota-based Optum Financial. Stewardship Health is the parent of Stewardship Health Medical Group, which employs primary care physicians and other clinicians across nine states, according to the state’s Health Policy Commission. The company’s hospitals were not included in the deal. “This is a significant proposed change involving two large medical providers, both in Massachusetts and nationally, with important implications for the delivery and cost of health care across Massachusetts,” Health Policy Commission Director David Seltz said. “Details of the proposal will be reviewed by the HPC to examine potential impacts on health care costs, quality, access and equity.

Rep. Vargas Seeks Expansion of State Earned Income Tax Credit for Those Not Currently Eligible

Immigrant advocates, including Haverhill Rep. Andy X. Vargas, last Thursday lobbied for expanded eligibility of a tax credit that’s seen as a key tool to prevent poverty and improve education outcomes among low-income households. About 21,000 to 26,000 households that are not currently eligible for the state Earned Income Tax Credit due to their immigration status stand to benefit from the expansion, according to the Healthy Families Tax Credits Coalition. At a briefing co-hosted by the legislative Black and Latino Caucus, supporters said the provision should be incorporated into the fiscal 2025 budget. “If we want Massachusetts to continue to be a place where people want to come to work, to provide for our economy, for their families and for others, then the least we can do is to ensure that all taxpayers are treated fairly, and that’s what this message is about,” said Vargas, caucus vice chair. “We’re going to continue to push as hard as we can on this.”

Immigrant workers are required to pay taxes, but often do so using Internal Revenue Service-issued individual taxpayer identification numbers.

With Hospital Crisis Unresolved, Leaders Call for Health Equity, Support for Lawrence General

With the crisis still unresolved at Steward Health Care, owner of Holy Family Hospitals in Haverhill and Methuen, a top community health leader urged the legislature not to let “distractions” stymie the push for major health care reforms.

Massachusetts League of Community Health Centers President Michael Curry called on lawmakers to display the “same sense of urgency that we had during COVID,” arguing that residents in communities of color continue to suffer as a result of health care disparities. “We for some reason had urgency in the pandemic that we’ve lost since the pandemic when, in fact, those same communities are dying, but it’s not COVID,” Curry told attendees at a legislative briefing yesterday. “It’s diabetes, it’s heart disease. It’s a whole list of things.”

“Saving lives is just as important today as it was three years ago,” he added. “I know we have a budget downturn, a fiscal crisis, we’ve got all kinds of distractions with potential losses of hospitals, but we do great things in difficult circumstances.

Holy Family Hospital’s Landlord ‘Encouraged by the Amount of Interest’ in Steward’s Properties

Holy Family Hospital’s landlord said Wednesday that Steward Health Care hospitals have drawn significant interest from other potential operators, the latest hint that facilities might soon be transferred away from the financially floundering for-profit system. A day after Gov. Maura Healey issued a biting call for Steward to hand off its licensed, operational Bay State hospitals to new parties “as soon as possible,” the firm that owns the hospital real estate suggested there could be a willing market. “With regard to Steward, we are encouraged by the amount of interest received to date from other hospital operators for these mission-critical facilities, and we expect this real estate portfolio will either resume its contributions to earnings or become additional sources of liquidity as the year progresses,” said Medical Properties Trust CEO Edward Aldag Jr.

At the same time, MPT—which in January said Steward owed it about $50 million in unpaid rent—appeared to open the door to steering more money to its tenant. MPT officials said in a news release about fourth-quarter finances that the firm is negotiating with other “asset-backed lenders” of Steward on $37.5 million in bridge funding, based on the hospital system hitting milestones established in January. The real estate firm said it had already funded $20 million of that request.

State Places Monitors at Holy Family; Trahan Pushes ‘Essential Health System’ Plan

Expressing uncertainty about the future of safety-net hospitals owned by Steward Health Care, Public Health Commissioner Robbie Goldstein said Wednesday state overseers will expand their monitoring of all nine facilities by next week in their bid to protect patient safety and quality. Goldstein said Department of Public Health surveyors have already been paying daily visits for “several weeks” to Holy Family Hospital in Haverhill and Methuen, St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton and Good Samaritan Medical Center in Brockton. Steward’s hospitals serve primarily low-income vulnerable residents who have public health insurance coverage. Surveyors added Carney Hospital in Dorchester and Morton Hospital in Taunton to their list of monitoring visits this week as Steward grapples with major financial problems that have prompted fears about potential facility closures.